Denying Apoptisis or Atrophy? Unhealthy Corporate Ailments

by Michael Graber

With situational irony firmly in tact, the first definition of Corpus in the Merriam-Webster dictionary reads “the body of a human or animal especially when dead.”

Corpus, of course, is the root word of Corporation. The concept of work far precedes the birth of the corporate structure. The structure and ethos, in fact the very DNA, of corporations grew out of the cultural moment of their birth and rise. Corporations are the grand, bloated, and magnificent statement of the Industrial Revolution. We can create an empire bigger than some civilizationswas the hubris-filled mantra, while the language was the lexicon of dominance: Win the market, Lead the category, and Beat the competition.

The mechanistic worldview built in into the corporate concept favors an assembly-line approach to business, the view that people are replaceable parts, and a bias toward an analytical approach to work and the market. While these attributes are not bad unto themselves, the world, it seems, accepts these historically recent defaults as, as the cliché says, “the cold, hard facts of reality.” But, change happens whether we want it or not.

As the world of work transforms itself to be relevant in the world today, which is a postindustrial civilization, the nature of the corporation will undergo a revolution. Two signs of strain that the Corporate model no longer works for a connected world rife with disruption demonstrate that the warning signs that the Industrial Era has outlived its usefulness to humanity—and also that its conception of reality looks like an impending tombstone.

Corporations are not absolute and monolithic entities, but are instead as alive and dynamic as the people who work there. In fact, in a deeper sense of reality, they are merely a reflection of the people who lead the organization and the people they attract to their culture. When corporations mistakenly presume rigidity, act as it immortal and refuse to adapt, they get a form of cultural cancer. Let’s explore this insidious conceit in more depth.

Apoptisis is programmed cellular death. A healthy body knows when its many cells should die so regeneration can occur. Similarly, a healthy corpus—corporation—would plan to outmode many of functions and modes by design, a form of corporate apoptisis. At unhealthy companies, there is a chronic resistance to allow programs, divisions, brands, segments, roles, and practices to die natural deaths. Here is the point of the analogy: cancerous cells don’t die when they are programmed to do so; they didn’t receive the memo.

Then, another issue with the corpus is atrophy, which is defined as a partial wasting away of the body. Causes include strange mutations, poor circulation, loss of support and nerve supply, and lack of exercise. Instead of properly removing some atrophying potion of a corporation, a strange pallor of neglect of a part of the body of a company starts to corrode the whole.

Thinking about the Corporation as a living system provides keys to transformation into the next epoch of industry, which according to trends, promises to be more values-based, more respectful of our full humanity, and more enriching than the Industrial Age’s imbalanced biases toward mechanization.

image credit: @movietombstone

 

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Michael GraberMichael Graber is the managing partner of the Southern Growth Studio, an innovation and strategic growth firm based in Memphis, TN and the author of Going Electric. Visit www.southerngrowthstudio.com to learn more.

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